Equipment

Test Driving Dip Pen Nibs

Once upon a time (back in the mid 1970s), when I first had professional art aspirations, my first media was pen and ink, heavily influenced by medieval illumination and Alphonse Mucha. I used them for many years when I was a freelance graphic designer. In the early 1990s, after getting a BFA Illustration from the Academy of Art (then) College, I was able to realize a childhood dream and spent two years in private study with a local artist learning to paint in oil. And since 1997, that’s what I’ve pursued professionally. But I never quite let go of pen and ink, using it for sketching on my travels. Everything from sketching animals…

…to spending a morning drawing these ruins I saw in Evora, Portugal.

The revival of location sketching with the urban sketchers movement and more has inspired me to return to my roots. I’ve been using Sakura Micron pens for years for my Mongolia journals, both for writing and sketching, along with other trips, but had become increasingly irritated with them. They don’t seem to hold a consistent tip anymore, which means I can’t trust them. I did some research and finally settled on what now appears to the the high quality standard, Copic Multiliners, and bought a full set of them. But…dip pens still beckoned. They have a feel and make a line that can’t be created any other way. So for a year now I’ve been building a collection of nibs via Etsy and eBay and, using Jet Pens excellent reviews, buying a half dozen different bottles of ink, experimenting a bit between my painting work. But can I use them in the field without making an unholy mess? Well, late 19th and early 20th century artists like Joseph Pennell, Henry Pitz, Earnest Watson, Arthur Guptill and William Robinson Leigh did it. And that led me to the wonderful world of inkwells, including ones made specifically for traveling. I’ll be doing an inkwell post in the future, along with discussions of nibs, ink and paper. Once my SketchWild site launches I’ll be offering dip pen drawing instruction. If you think you’d be interested in that let me know in the comments.
Over the past month or so I’ve been “test driving” nibs while also trying out possible painting subjects. Of of yesterday, here’s what I’ve done:

I was treated to an EXTREMELY rare sighting of wild bactrian camels, a herd of sixteen or so, heading south in the Gobi in 2016. They crossed the road in front us and were a long way off, but my photos were good enough to do these little movement studies, freehand with no pencil underdrawing. I used a Hunt 100 Artist nib and Platinum Carbon ink on Strathmore 300 vellum bristol, a 12×9″ pad. All of the drawings in this post were done on that paper.
I was considering entering a juried show that required corvids as the subject. I ultimately decided not to enter but did have fun trying out possible subjects with my dip pens, once again directly with no pencil underdrawing. I’ve had fun getting nibs from a variety of countries including Italy, France and England. Even some from the era of the Soviet Union with a hammer and sickle on them, purchased through Etsy from someone who lives in Ukraine! And they’re a really nice nib!
The subject here is takhi/Przewalski’s horse, all photographed in Mongolia. This sheet really shows how different the various nibs are. Hunt 100 Artist/Platinum Carbon ink; Gillott #290/Platinum Carbom ink; Gillott #170/Platinum Carbon ink; Gillott #303 EF/Noodler’s Black ink; Gillott #404/ Perle Noir ink; Esterbrook 356 Art & Drafting/Diamonte Jet Black ink



Contining on: All done with Higgins Fountain Pen India Ink. Hunt #102 crowquill; Hunt #108 crowquill; Gillott #659 crowquill; Esterbrook #48 Falcon; Hunt #100 Artist (new); Gillott #293 Public Pen; Hunt #103 Mapping; Hunt #100 Artist (new); Hunt #100 (vintage)

Over the last couple of days I’ve done a series of small drawings on the Strathmore 300 vellum bristol. This time, unlike the ones above, I did do a light preliminary pencil sketch. They took maybe an hour and change at most. The purpose was to explore how each nib feels when used for an actual drawing. All of them have things I like about them but I found I really did like the Gillott #303 Extra Fine quite a lot.

Race horse-Hunt #100 (new)
Domestic bactrian camel-Gillott #303 Extra Fine
Domestic Mongol horse-Gillott #170

On the ones above I added the background shape both to pop out the white of the light sides of the animals and to see how filling in an area would work with that particular nib. All were ok, but want to experiment more.

Siberian ibex-Gillott #29
Pika-Hunt #102 crowquill; not thrilled with how the fur came out but that’s why it’s good to experiment

And the Copic pens? Love, love, love them. I’ve joined artist Cathy Johnson’s “Sketch With Me!” Facebook group. She does virtual events one weekend a month. This is what I posted in October, an arrangement of squash from our garden. Copic pen and watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Zeta series wirebound sketchbook.

4 replies »

  1. I’m interested in the travel wells! Yes, please post in future!

    I have a Pilot Decimo pen that I adore. I refill the cartridge for the ink. The nib is permanently in place, so I can’t change it. This is my favorite pen of all time, for similar reasons: how it feels in my hand, consistent lines and reliability.

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  2. Ok, I’ll make a special note about blogging the travel ink well. I’ve not heard of that model of Pilot pen and will definitely check it out. Thank you for telling me about it!
    Cheers!
    Susan

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